Monday, 6 August 2012

Strange Newspapers; Stranger Media language

In an age full of news of violence, bloodshed and corruption and general human senselessness, today’s newspapers are a rich source of laughter

The task of print journalists, as they are, is a terrible taskmaster. Hide bad language skills underneath your tongue and your fingertips would promptly have your secret handicap screamed to thousand readers out of their morning tea chairs.

Worst, the clearer your printing machine’s resolution, the more unforgivable and bigger your mistakes seem.

No scholastic ‘transgression’ was greater than those committed in the print, thanks to the enduring quality of the printed word: A misprinted word that sticks an entire meaning on its head; misspellings that terrorize even the most indiscreet of readers; the contextually isolated detail that totally nullifies an entire story to naught. Or even the all-too-clichéd story in the name of human interest one bumps into (Read so-and-so undertakes “social work”).

A complex combination of those disasters can only mean readers have more stressful jobs reading than journalists do from writing. Naturally, when the horrors of newspaper language hits home, the conscious reader is conveniently assigned by newspapers the horrendous and involuntary burden of exercising his intellectual eyebrows with the timeless question: “what the heck was that again?”

Suddenly, the reader is left to do all the cleaning-up in the course of his intellectual quest. So – basically – the sleepy reader who lumbers out of his bed finds a terrible task awaiting him at the dining table other than the ‘normal’ bad news of blood and gore.

Caught in the never-ending swirls of everyday tragedies, Newspapers fail in keeping reminded of the one formidable pitfall so characteristic of this depressing job called Journalism. The ‘pitfall’ the Media has yet to recognize is the critical suspicion of the fussy reader attempting to digest an awfully tasteless, almost-bucolic writing style of reporters. Or an infuriatingly silly “fact” in a story passed off as “significant development” to perhaps score brownie points for the circulation mafia.

Any thing is OK or not?

Hungry detractors enjoy bad lingual menus just so to reassure themselves that even journalists come from wombs and not from Wordsworth’s pantheon.

In an age where lurid details of crime, corruption and deaths are the only news, today’s print journalism, ironically, serve readers with profuse amusement not even Santa and Banta can surpass.

So what might be the cause for errors and misprints, miscalculated news bytes or just plain intellectual idiocy that feed the morning reader with more than bad news? Bad salary, a disgruntled journalist might say. The high-stress nature of the profession, another may opine. Still, a third might as well assemble all the stress-points to explain the terror journalism brings to the peaceful lives of tea-sipping citizens.

But I believe fellow-journalists would agree on one thing: the blame is on the colorful array of individuals each of who edit press releases, each in their own exclusive styles.

You see, dear reader, Nagaland’s print media is invariably unlike other media organizations across the world (including India). Say, even in Guwahati media offices have specialized, task-specific and singular experts to work on each dimension of publishing. For instance, reporters field only stories; copywriters only rewrite stories; editors only edit and check, and proofreaders only proof-read and nothing else.

But for journalists in Nagaland, you could be chasing a story, the next minute you are copywriting piles of all nonsensical press releases from local organizations whose ambition is only to see their names in the print; the next hour you are editing the pages – or fetching paan for your editor.

All-in-one, period. So how do you reconcile and streamline a variety of individual language styles of 10 journalists into an identifiable, uncomplicated, identifiable format? Now you know the reason why Nagaland newspapers have stories (oh horror, even editorials!) that look like they were written by class-V students and still others that appear to be the work of Literature Analysts.

You read this article or not still now?

The anomalies nonetheless do give its failings a chance to scream out. Scream out to simply force fresh minds out of their morning teatimes. That is where the Grammar-stricken student would have to have blamed the ‘local’ media already.

Earlier, I was told about a comment left by a reader of The Morung Express on the Daily’s website edition. This particular reader had been relentlessly disparaging the language format and editing of The Morung Express, for a long time now. One thing that struck me was a suggestion made by this particular reader he had even advised us to “read” newspapers such as “The Times of India” and so on.

I understand one thing that the vehemently critical reader missed – that classics such as Jyoti Sanyal’s satiric book on Indian journalistic writings ‘Indlish,’ were inspired by the fuzzy, bucolic writing styles of newspapers such as The Times of India. You know the English of Press Trust of India (PTI) or TOI is (in)famous for – in fact they share similarity with the language of most reporters in Nagaland!

It is clear enough that the confusion of readers, generally, is not any gentler than that of the poor bag-eyed people who fill the morning’s pages. 

This is an age where print journalism – and its digital cousins, the web informatics and webnews – have come to adhere religiously to exclusive writing formats and styles.

And Nagaland’s (or India’s) media is a tragedy.

In an age of designer-hullabaloo India creates everyday, perhaps one has yet to find time for universal writing style applications: the Chicago Manual, AP Stylebook, Cambridge Handbook for editors, Oxford Style Manual, MLA Handbook, the Chicago Manual of Style and the APA style manual, the New York Print Handbook, the Associated Press Format, the Reuters’ or the BBC Handbook format.

From the Wall Street Journal to, say, the Hindustan Times, print media across the globe write in own (and strictly adhered-to) language styles. It would be a step ahead if newspapers in Nagaland do actually devise their own “language” formats as well.

(In the next article) I shall be introducing you to some of the weirdest, nuttiest and most intimidating of “English,” typos, grammatical errors and ‘misprints’ that ever escaped the eyes of our editors to land on your tea table.  

(This article was originally published in The Morung Express May 7, 2011)

©2012 Al Ngullie ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This article contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.

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